While moments to celebrate in 2012 have been rare, the Red Sox have had some pleasant surprises.
After Wednesday night’s 13-3 shellacking at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays that assured the Boston Red Sox a losing season, manager Bobby Valentine described the team’s performance as “tough to look at” (via ESPNBoston).
He might as well have been talking about the entire season.
This has been a year of enormous disappointments both on and off the field, as veteran players struggled and the organization as a whole seemed to take a quantum leap backwards. From the owners to Valentine to Jon Lester (and everyone in between), few can escape the label of “underachiever” this year.
Contrary to popular belief, however, things have not been all bad in Boston this season. Several players have risen from low (or no) expectations to produce for the Sox and give the team a boost.
While their contributions have not made a meaningful enough impact to propel this team into the playoffs (or even to a winning record), these five players have at the very least been a positive force in 2012.
Here are five pleasant surprises from this otherwise miserable season:
Almost an afterthought this offseason and brought in for the bargain rate of $3 million per season, the affable right fielder has been the Sox’s steadiest producer this season.
Ross has absolutely mashed against left-handed pitching, clubbing 11 home runs and driving in 33 over just 115 at bats. His 1.068 OPS against southpaws puts him in the top 10 in all of MLB.
His overall numbers, too, reflect how good he has been this year; his 21 home runs and 74 RBI are approaching the career highs he set in 2009 with the Florida Marlins, and his .839 OPS is the best number he’s ever had in a full season.
More than anything else, though, Ross has stayed positive and fully invested in the season even when it became apparent the team was rebuilding. This passion (see his ejection from the September 12 game), along with his production, are major reasons why the Sox should look to keep him in a Sox uniform next season and beyond.
It has been a strange journey this year for the 36-year-old outfielder, who began the season in the Phillies minor league system. After a rash of injuries to their outfielders, the Sox purchased Podsednik’s contract on May 12.
He made an immediate impact upon arriving in Boston, going eight for his first 18 with two steals and playing solid defense at all three outfield positions. On the season, Podsednik’s batting average has only just dipped below .300 (he’s at .297 now), and he has also stolen eight bases in 10 attempts.
Considering that he wasn’t even in the organization through the month of April and didn’t play a single MLB game last year, Podsednik’s contributions have come from nowhere. While he is likely through as a member of the Red Sox after this season, he has been a major plus this year.
Saltalamacchia struggled a bit as he assumed the bulk of the starting duties from Jason Varitek last season, and it was fair to wonder if he simply wasn’t cut out for the rigors of catching every day in MLB.
While he does boast a brutal 3.85 SO/BB ratio, the Sox’s backstop has also posted career highs in home runs (24), RBI (56) and OPS (.758). His robust home run total trails only A.J. Pierzynski (26) and Wilin Rosario (25) among all MLB catchers.
Even as he has been losing time behind the plate to rookie Ryan Lavarnway and the games are becoming increasingly meaningless, Salty is still producing: In his last seven games, he has posted a .939 OPS and has recorded four extra-base hits.
While it will be interesting to see how the catching situation is handled in 2013 and beyond, for now Saltalamacchia has shown he is a capable MLB player.
Despite his struggles of late (7.00 ERA since July 23, missing time in August with an injury), Doubront has been a nice piece for the Sox this season.
Entering spring training, the Sox rotation was supposed to consist of Beckett-Lester-Buchholz-Bard-Aceves/Padilla/Carlos Silva. Doubront’s strong performance in the spring forced the Sox to adjust, and once the season began he rewarded the organization’s faith by being their most reliable pitcher through the season’s first 2.5 months (7-3, 4.17 ERA).
Having reached a career high in innings pitched (147.0), the young left-hander is understandably showing signs of fatigue. His performance this season, though, remains an encouraging sign for the pitcher’s future in Boston.
After signing a minor league deal in the offseason, Ciriaco grabbed everyone’s attention by batting .419 with seven doubles in just 43 at-bats in spring training.
Though he was no longer an afterthought, Ciriaco spent the first three months of the season in Triple-A Pawtucket, where he hit .301 and was named to the International League All-Star team.
After his call-up in July, though, the diminutive infielder proved that he belonged in MLB. His prolific weekend against the Yankees briefly vaulted the Sox back into contention, and Ciriaco has been a fixture in the lineup ever since.
Having played every position except pitcher, catcher and first base, the 26-year-old is hitting .296 on the season and has stolen 15 bases without being caught. Of concern, though, is his paltry walk total (six) over 216 at-bats.
How Ciriaco fits into the long-term picture is unclear, but he will nevertheless be fondly remembered for his efforts in 2012.